THE Catholic party was triumphant. It had set aside the Protestant queen and sacrificed the Protestant minister; and it now proceeded to take measures of a less startling character, but which were a more direct attack on the very work of the Reformation. It thought proper to put to death some of those zealous men who were boldly preaching the pure Gospel, not only for the sake of getting rid of them, but even more for the purpose of terrifying those who were imitating them or who were willing to do so.
Of these men, Barnes, Garret, and Jerome were the most known. They were in prison; but Henry had hitherto scrupled about sacrificing men who preached a doctrine opposed to the pope. The party, moreover, united all their forces to bring about the fall of Cromwell, who had been confined within the same walls. After his death, the death of the preachers followed as a matter of course; it was merely the corollary; it was a natural consequence, and needed no special demonstration; the sentence, according to the Romish party, had only to be pronounced to be evidently justified.
On these principles the king’s council and the parliament proceeded; and two days after the execution of Cromwell, these three evangelists, without any public hearing, without knowing any cause of their condemnation, without receiving any communication whatsoever, were taken out of prison, July 30, 1540, to be conducted to Smithfield, where they were to be deprived, not only of their ministry, but of their lives.
Henry, however, was not free from uneasiness. He had openly asserted that he leaned neither to one side nor to the other; that he weighed both parties in a just balance; and now, while he is boasting of his impartiality, everybody persists in saying that he gives all the advantage to the papists.
What is he to do in order to be just and impartial? Three papists must be found to be put to death, at the same time with the evangelicals. Then nobody will venture to assert that the king does not hold the even. The measure shall be faultless and one of glories of his reign. The three papists selected to be placed in the other scale bore the names of Power, and Fetherstone. The first two were political pamphleteers who had supported the cause of Catherine of Aragon; and the third was, like them, opponent of royal supremacy. It seems that in this matter the king also made allowance for the composition of his own council, which comprised both friends and enemies of the Reformation. Amongst the former were the archbishop of Canterbury, the duke of Suffolk, viscounts Beauchamp and Lisle, Russell, Paget, Sadler, and Audley. Amongst the latter were the bishops of Winchester and Durham, the duke of Norfolk, the earl of Southampton, Sir Antony Brown, Paulet, Baker, Richard, and Wingfield.
There was therefore a majority of one against the Reformation, just enough to turn the scale. Henry, with a show of impartiality, assigned three victims to each of these parties. Preparations were made at the Tower for carrying out this equitable sentence. In the courtyard were three hurdles, of oblong shape, formed of branches of trees closely intertwined, on which the culprits were to be drawn to the place of execution. Why three only, as there Were six condemned? The reason was soon to be seen. When the three prisoners of each side were brought Out, they proceeded to lay one evangelical on the first hurdle, and by his side a papist, binding them properly to each other to keep them in this strange coupling. The same process was gone through with second and the third hurdles; they then set out, and the six prisoners were drawn two and two to Smithfield.
Thus, in every street through which procession passed, Henry VIII. proclaimed by this strange spectacle that his government was impartial, and condemned alike the two classes of divines and of doctrines.
The three hurdles reached Smithfield. Two and two the prisoners were unbound, and the three evangelicals were conducted to the stake. No trial having been allowed them by the court, these upright and pious men felt it their duty to supply its place the foot of the scaffold. The day of their death thus became for them the day of hearing. The tribunal was sitting and the assembly was large. Barnes was the first speaker. He said: ‘I am come hither to be burned as a heretic... God I take to record, I never (to my knowledge) taught any erroneous doctrine... and I neither moved nor gave occasion of any insurrection... I believe in the Holy and Blessed Trinity;... and that this blessed Trinity sent down the second person, Jesus Christ, into the womb of the most blessed and purest Virgin Mary... I believe that through his death he overcame sin, death and hell; and that there is none other satisfaction to the Father, but this his death and passion only.’ At these words Barnes, deeply moved, raised his hands to heaven, and prayed God to forgive him his sins. This profession of faith did not satisfy the sheriff. Then some one asked him what he thought of praying to the saints. ‘I believe,’ answered Barnes, ‘that they are worthy of all the honor that Scripture willeth them to have. But, I say, throughout all Scripture we are not commanded to pray to any saints... If saints do pray for us, then I trust to pray for you within the next half-hour.’ He was silent, and the sheriff said to him: ‘Well, have you anything more to say?’ He answered: ‘Have ye any articles against me for the which I am condemned?’ The sheriff answered: ‘No.’ Barnes then put the question to the people whether any knew wherefore he died. No one answered. Then he resumed: ‘They that have been the occasion of it I pray God forgive them, as I would be forgiven myself. And Doctor Stephen, bishop of Winchester that now is, if he have sought or wrought this my death, either by word or deed, I pray God forgive him... I pray that God may give [the king] prosperity, and that he may long reign among you; and after him that godly prince Edward may so reign that he may finish those things that his father hath begun.’ Then collecting himself, Barnes addressed three requests to the sheriff, the prayer of a dying man. The first, was that the king might employ the Wealth of the abbeys which had been poured into the treasury in relieving his poor subjects who were in great need of it. The second was that marriage might be respected, and that men might not live in uncleanness. The third, that the name of God might not be taken in vain in abominable oaths. These prayers of a dying man, who was sent to the scaffold by Henry himself, ought to have produced some impression on the heart of the king. Jerome and Garret likewise addressed affecting exhortations to the people. After this, these three Christians uttered together their last prayer, shook hands with and embraced each other, and then meekly gave themselves up to the executioner. They were bound to the same stake, and breathed their last in patience and in faith.
On the same day, at the same hour, and at the same place where the three friends of the Gospel were burnt, the three followers of the pope, Abel, Fetherstone, and Powel were hung. A foreigner who was present exclaimed: ‘Deus bone! quomodo hic vivunt gentes? Hic suspenduntur papistoe, illic comburuntur antipapistoe.’ The simple-minded and ignorant asked what kind of religion people should have in England, seeing that both Romanism and Protestantism led to death. A courtier exclaimed: ‘Verily, henceforth I will be of the king’s religion, that is to say, of none at all!’ f350 Cromwell and these six men were not to be the only objects of the king’s displeasure. Even before they had undergone their sentence, the king had caused his divorce to be pronounced. In marrying Anne of Cleves, his chief object had been to form an alliance with the Protestants against the emperor. Now these two opponents were by time reconciled with each other. Henry, therefore, deeply irritated, no longer hesitated to rid himself of the new queen. He was influenced, moreover, by another motive. He was smitten with the charms of another woman. However, as he dreaded the raillery, the censures, and even the calamities which the divorce might bring upon him, he was anxious not to appear as the originator of it, and should the accusation be made, to be able to repel it as a foul imposture without shadow of reality. He resolved, therefore, to adopt such a course that this strange proceeding should seem to have been imposed him. This intention he hinted to one of the lords whom he had full confidence; and the latter some communications about it, on July 3, to the Privy Council.
On the 6th his majesty’s ministers out to the upper house the propriety of their requesting the king, in conjunction with the house, that the convocation of the clergy might examine into his marriage with Anne of Cleves, see whether it were valid. The lords adopted the proposal; and a commission consisting of the lord chancellor, the archbishop of Canterbury, and the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, presented it to the commons, who gave their assent to it. Consequently the whole House of Lords and a commission of twenty members of the lower house appeared before the king, and stated that the matter about which they had to confer with him was of such an important character that they must first request his permission to lay it before them. Henry, feigning utter ignorance of what they meant, commanded them to speak. They then said, — ‘We humbly pray your majesty to allow the validity of your marriage to be investigated by the convocation of the clergy; we attach all the more importance to this proceeding because the question bears upon the succession to the throne of your majesty.’ It was well known that the king did not love Anne, and that he was even in love with another. This is a striking instance of the degree of meanness to which Henry VIII. had reduced his parliament; for an assembly, even if some mean souls are to be found in it, undertakes not to be despicable, and what is noblest in it usually comes to the surface. But if the shameful compliance’s of the parliament astonish us, the audacious hypocrisy of Henry VIII. surprises us still more. He stood up to answer as if in the presence of the Deity; and concealing his real motives he said, — ‘There is nothing in the world more dear to me than the glory God, the good of England, and the declaration of truth.’ All the actors in this comedy played their parts to perfection. f352 The king immediately sent to Richmond some of his councilors, amongst them Suffolk and Gardiner, to communicate to the queen the demand of the parliament and to ascertain her opinion with respect to it. After many long conferences, Anne gave her consent to the proposal. f353 The next day, July 7, the matter was brought before Convocation by Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, who was very anxious to see a Roman Catholic queen upon the throne of England. A committee was nominated for the purpose of examining the witnesses; and of this committee the bishop was a member. An autograph declaration of the king was produced, in which he dwelt strongly; on the fact that he took such a dislike to Anne as soon as he saw her that he thought instantly of breaking off the match; that he never inwardly consented to the marriage, and that in fact it had never been consummated. Within two days all the witnesses were heard. Henry was impatient; and the Roman party urgently appealed to the assembly to deliver a judgment which would rid England of a Protestant queen. Cranmer, out of fear or feebleness (he had just seen Cromwell lose his head), went with the rest of them. In his view the will of Henry VIII. was almost what destiny was for the ancients — Des arrets du destin l’ordre est invariable.
On July 9, Convocation, relying upon the two reasons given by the king, and upon the fact that there was something ambiguous in Anne’s engagement with the son of the duke of Lorraine, decided that his majesty ‘was at liberty to contract another marriage for the good of the realm.’ f355 None of these reasons had any validity. Nor did Henry escape the condemnation and the raillery which he had so much feared. ‘It appears,’ said Francis I., ‘that over there they are pleased to do with their women as with their geldings — bring a number of them together and make them trot, and then take the one which goes easiest.’ f357 The archbishop of Canterbury on July 10 reported to the House of Lords that Convocation had declared the marriage null and void by virtue both of the law of God and of the law of England. The bishop of Winchester read the judgment and explained at length the grounds of it, and the house declared itself satisfied. The archbishop and the bishop made the same report to the Commons. On the following day — Henry did not intend that any time should be lost — the lord chancellor, the duke of Norfolk, the earl of Southampton, and the bishop of Winchester betook themselves to Richmond, whither the innocent queen had been sent for change of air, and informed her, on the king’s behalf, of the proceedings of parliament and of Convocation. Anne was distressed by the communication. She had supposed that the clergy would acknowledge, as it was their duty to do, the validity of her marriage. However it may be, so sharp was the stroke that she fainted away. The necessary care was bestowed on her, and she recovered, and gradually reconciled herself to the thought of submission to Henry’s will. The delegates told her that the king, while requiring her to renounce the title of queen, conferred on her that of his adopted sister, and gave her precedence in rank; of all the ladies of the court, immediately after the queen and the daughters of the king. Anne was modest; she did not think highly of herself, and had often felt that she was not made to be queen of England. She therefore submitted, and the same day, July 11, wrote to the king, — ‘Though this case must needs be most hard and sorrowful unto me, for the great love which I bear to your most noble person; yet having more regard to God and his truth than to any worldly affection, as it beseemed me... I knowledge myself hereby to accept and approve the same [determination of the clergy] wholly and entirely putting myself, for my state and condition, to your highness’s goodness and pleasure; most humbly beseeching your majesty... to take me for one of your most humble servants.’ She subscribed herself ‘Your majesty’s most humble sister and servant, Anne, daughter the Cleves.’ f359 The king sent word to her that he conferred on her a pension of three thousand pounds, and the palace at Richmond. Anne wrote to him again, July 16, to thank him for his great kindness, and at the same time sent him her ring She preferred — and herein she showed some pride — to remain in England, rather than to go home after such a disgrace had fallen upon her. ‘I account God pleased,’ she wrote to her brother, ‘with what is done, and know myself to have suffered no wrong or injury... I find the king’s highness... to be as a most kind, loving and friendly father and brother... . I am so well content and satisfied, that I much desire my mother, you, and other mine allies so to understand it, accept and take it.’ Seldom has a woman carried self-renunciation to such a length.